Trey Ratcliff is a photographer with over 5 million Google+ followers. Trey shares tips based on his skill with images, but also his promotional tactics, including live Hangouts.

A master travel photographer, Trey is known the world over for his incredible imagery and talent behind the lens. What sets him apart is his mastery in online marketing. Ratcliff’s popular blog, Stuck in Customs, is so much more than an online portfolio; here, he shares tool reviews, tips, how-to articles for photographers and more.

Where he is most successful, though, is on Google+, where Ratcliff has amassed a following of over 5.2 million people who have added him to their Circles. His is a highly engaged audience – it’s not uncommon to see 2,500 or more +1s and hundreds of shares on individual posts to his Page.

Ratcliff’s Google+ domination has been noticed by more than his fans. His social strategy has been the subject of articles at Forbes, Mashable, GigaOM and other major publications. He’s taken the visual content craze used it to help drive his career as a writer, photographer, speaker and expert in HDR (high dynamic range) imaging.

What can you take from Ratcliff’s Google+ strategy to employ in building and engaging your own community?

Tell a Story with Your Images

A picture is worth a thousand words, yet social fans all see a different story in your visuals. Search engines can’t read that story at all. Help others discover and share relevant content by telling a story in the image description and tagging the people in your images. In the post below, you can see how Ratcliff tells the story around this image, tagging others involved in the events surrounding the photo itself.

Trey Ratcliffe shares visual content and engages fans through his Google+ Page.

You Can’t Build a Social Community in a Vacuum

Ratcliff once told ReadWrite in an interview, “I believe curating my own list of people to follow is very, very important. I need constant inspiration and ideas, so I circle up people that give me ideas, make me happy, and make me think.”

Indeed, he interacts with fans regularly on his own Google+ page, as well. Nurturing his own community and reaching beyond its borders to reach new audiences are priorities that have paid off for him.

Social Visuals Go Beyond Still Pictures

Videos are a great way to engage your audience and Google+ Hangouts allow them to get more involved. Ratcliff regularly hosts Hangouts and shares videos to Google+ from his collection on YouTube, where he has over 2.4 million views.

Take Your Audience Somewhere Cool

Okay, so it may not make sense for your brand to take your social fans on a visual journey to locales from Lord of the Rings. However, there are things your audience wants to know, needs they have to fulfill, and it’s your job to take them on that journey. This might mean a behind the scenes look at how your product is made, or a look at who provides the services they use. It could involve telling the story of all the different ways your brand has affected people’s lives. Find that story and express it in a collection of photos with descriptive captions.

Trey Ratcliff organizes social images into collections to tell a story.

Use Google+ to Complement Your Web Presence

Ratcliff, like many business owners, still wants to drive people to his website. In the aforementioned ReadWrite article, he explained how he views Google+ in the grand scheme of his online presence. “I think of Google+ and these tools as leaving scent trails to a bigger food source, if you accept the super-organism communication analogy,” he said. Some people also have an interest in longer, more in-depth content. Social is the method by which he amplifies his message and drives traffic back to his website.

Trey Ratcliff has succeeded on the social platform that just a year ago, many had written off as a ghost town. His highly visual stream and audience engagement tactics have served him well. What has your experience on Google+ been like?